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Philippians 13

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 Philippians 13.Here we are, the third of March, we are already in to Autumn, but there is still some hot weather ahead of us.  In fact we have had some real scorchers this summer. I do not handle the high temperatures that well – once it gets above 25o C. I wither. The good thing about have an 11 year old daughter who loves the water, is that I have an excuse for having a decent sized paddling pool [P]. When it gets above 25o C, I am in, cooling down. The only trouble is when you get in, it is not only you – there is grass and dirt on your feet, flying things land in, leaves from the trees. It is a continual job keeping the water clear. You just leave that pool a few days over summer and it starts to go green, leave it too long it begins to smell, paramecium start to grow. So to keep out all the muck, the pool has a filter [P]. A pump sucks water draws it through a filter, the muck gets caught in the filter and only pure water ends up going back into the pool. Not an advanced concept – we have filters everywhere, air-filters and oil-filters in our cars. We know the importance of keeping out the dirt – it can end up causing real damage. It is even more important to keep the dirt out of our minds and hearts – watch out to keep the muck out, because it is in the very atmosphere all around us where we live! So I want to talk about filters today – a filter we find in Scripture. For Scripture says: [Proverbs 4:23 Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.] You will recall that Paul in the letter he wrote to the church in Philippi addressed the issue of two women in the fellowship, who were mature believers, yet they weren’t getting along [P]. This issue may well have been the whole reason for writing the letter – the church was in danger of being divided. All the issues that Paul had spoken about so far could well have been preparation for dealing with this matter: He emphasized being of one mind [P]; humbling serving others, laying aside your interests for the sake of others [P]; and there is a repeated emphasis on rejoicing [P].  These would preclude any kind of personal animosity and division. Paul is addressing practical matters, there is a series of seemingly unrelated commands and exhortations – but when seen in the context of this disagreement within the fellowship, they all make sense and are related. We saw last time that Paul gave the formula for handling the situation: [P]in everything” (so it in fact applies to any situation) He tells us not to be anxious but: “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We call upon God to resolve the situation, not worrying about it, but trusting Him. Supernatural peace that comes from God Himself will guard our hearts and minds. God’s peace guards our mind – He does a miracle! But there is also the part we must play. [P] [Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.]  The same outcome: the peace of God. His peace guards our mind but also we must guard it; dwell on what is true, honourable, right, what is pure, lovely, of good repute, what is excellent and worthy of praise. Paul begins (Phil 4:8) with: “Finally” – again! Paul had said “finally” back in (Phil 3:1) – and Paul is not finished yet! “finally” does not necessarily signal the end is near; it just signals that he is moving on to other matters, it does not mean this is the last thing he has to say. Paul had been addressing the situation between these two women; now he is moving on to other things: general instructions for the whole fellowship. He provides some important guidelines here about how we are to think and act. They are guidelines, not rules – he has intentionally avoided a legalistic, narrow set of parameters. Nonetheless, the boundaries he sets are firm and sure. But although he is moving on from addressing the situation between Euodia and Syntyche; what he says makes a lot of sense in terms of the context of disagreement he had just addressed. Notice all the “whatever’s[P] – if Paul had said, “Think only about things that are true, honourable, and right,” we would be left with a checklist to follow. It would essentially be a negative command, telling us not to think about things that did not meet the criteria. Instead, he has us conjure up a boundless set of items that fit positive criteria. His whatever is statement is like a fill-in-the-blank exercise. As long as it fits one of the criteria, you’re good to go! Paul does not say, “Don’t do this, don’t do that, and don’t do this other thing.” Such a list would quickly become outdated, and we would be saying, “That doesn’t apply to me today.” By keeping his list general, Paul makes his message timeless. Something that is true and pure could be found in any culture or time period. Our imagination is the only limitation—other than the standards he sets. And this is where we come to the filter I was talking about: [P] What’s your filter? Paul’s series of whatever statements serve as a grid to filter what we should dwell upon. It eliminates the negative influences without hindering the flow of the positive ones. The eight criteria that Paul provides should serve as a grid for the kinds of things we ought to think about. Instead of providing a finite list of do’s and don’ts, Paul provides principles that should guide our behaviour. “Rules are many, principles are few. Rules change, principles never do.” At school I was no good at languages because you had to learn great long lists of vocab; I preferred maths – you learnt a principle; once you got that, all you had to do was apply it for whatever the problem was. Principles are not only easier to remember because of their limited number, but they are also timeless—if properly formulated, they always apply. If you tried to comprehensively list what should or should not be done, you will inevitably leave out something important. Even if you could successfully list everything, at some point things will change, there will be a situation that falls outside the bounds of your list. Although there are advantages to principles compared to rules, there is also a downside – you have to apply them – not simply follow the rules but think about a how they work out in your situation. Principles do not have right and wrong answers, but are more along the lines of good, better, and best. Although the New Testament has specific prohibitions we might characterize as rules, more often the truths of Scripture are framed as timeless principles that must be wisely implemented. Paul provided a grid for deciding what kinds of things we ought to do versus not do. He avoids a specific list by giving four guidelines: what you have learned, received, heard about, and seen in me. [P] He sets his own life as a standard, as an example to follow. In each situation they were to ask the question: “What did Paul do or teach us to do?” What about us? How can we know what Paul would do when we have never met the guy? We see and hear about Paul’s ministry in the book of Acts; we learn and receive teaching from him by studying his letters. We see his ministry advice for handling issues that arise in the church, his personal counsel to Timothy and Titus, his praise of his fellow workers – all this helps us to discern his values and decision-making processes. Looking to what Paul would do inevitably directs us back to Jesus—the Author and Perfector of our faith – as Paul said: [1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.] Jesus is another strong proponent of principles over rules. Many of His debates with the religious leaders could be characterized as moving them beyond rules to the principles that underlie them. We find safety in rules, even if we don’t manage to keep them. If we have a list of rules we can use them to live by, direct our own life; but God does not intend for us to do it ourselves – He intends for us to walk in relationship – to be led by His Holy Spirit, rely on Him in each situation. What we do is determined by what we think. Instead of a list rules about what we should do, Paul goes even further back to what we think? We have a list, not of rules, but a filter that helps guard our mind, direct our thinking. We need the mind to the Spirit. We can have our minds set on the flesh of on the Spirit: [Romans 8:5-6 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.] Paul directs us as to what our minds should be fixed upon. Thoughts come at us from every which way – some we are good, others we should not entertain – but which? Well, is it: true? Is it honourable? Right? Pure? Lovely? If so you allow through, you let your mind dwell on that – filtering out all this rubbish – what is false, dirty, corrupt, shameful. Rather than forbidding the bad, the focus is on the good. Let’s look at how these principles to apply to our thought life: Whatever is: True: [P] (ἀληθής) = in accordance with historical fact. How much of our time is taken up considering what is not even true what is not reality. My sister gave me a crazy DVD for Christmas: “Galaxy Quest”. It’s all about these aging actors who, years ago, were in a popular science fiction TV series – they acted the part of people fighting for good in universe in their space ship. But some aliens from out of space intercepted the TV transmissions and thought that this TV series was for real, like newsreel. They saw these great heroes, and thought that they could solve their problem. So they took these actors up into space to rescue them. They had no concept of fiction, they thought that it was true – deception was not a concept they could comprehend. The moment of truth came when the actors had to admit that actually they had pretended, were just acting; that they had lied! You stop and think about it, the books we read, the movies we watch – it is fiction, it isn’t true! Not that there is anything wrong with that, I’m not against fiction – but just how much of our time is spent considering that which is not true at all. We have portrayed a way of living before our eyes – and we see it so often we come to accept it as true! Our lives are hidden in God with Christ Jesus – that is the truth, Christ is in me – that is the reality. But my mind focuses on that which is not true – that this life is all there is; that the All Blacks winning is important; that it vital to have a luxurious house, an i-pad or whatever – stuff that is not true because it doesn’t last. As regards the conflict between these two women in the church – do you know what turns the disagreement into division? People taking sides – they hear one person’s point of view only, they don’t find out the whole truth. One side misrepresents the other – and division is built on half truths and a slanted version of the story. Whatever is Honourable: [P] (σεμνά)  = worthy of respect, noble, dignified. It is appropriate, befitting behaviour; which brings dignity and respect—‘good character.’ Not something we speak of today. Those we admire, the famous and renown; are those who are successful, those with charisma, those who have made it to the top – the ambitious, the assertive, those who are in your face. It used to be those we respected were those with nobility of character. At work I call my boss “Pete” – but when I first started, the head of Microbiology, though everyone else was addressed by their first name, was always called: “Mr Rose”. He was the friendliest, most personable chap, but there was a certain dignity – you respected him. [1 Timothy 3:8 Deacons likewise must be men of dignity ……] It is the same word. What happens in a dispute, where people take sides? There is character assassination – one side brings up the dirt on the other party. Instead of considering what is noble and dignified, things to respect; they are considering exactly the opposite. Whatever is Right: [P] (δίκαια)   what is proper or right in the sense of being fully justified. Right is not considered today – instead of considering what is the right thing to do; we consider what is expedient. You are walking down the road and the person in front of you blows their nose, as they pull out their hanky a $20 bill falls to the ground. The right thing to do is to pick it up and give it to them; the expedient thing is to put it in your own pocket. Success, expediency, pragmatism is the measure, not what is right. What happens when two parties are in disagreement – you dwell on the wrong done. You could recall all the times the other person had done the right thing, deeds of charity and service; but no, we dwell on the one time he happened to say some little thing that offended me. We dwell on what we perceive to be the wrong, rather than on the right. If you dwelt on the right, the disagreement would not be there. Whatever is Pure: [P] (ἁγνά)   what is morally pure, undefiled – the word referred to ceremonial purification. It has to do with being without moral defect or blemish. Do you know what the news, the gossip mags, the tea-room thrives upon? Dirt! There is something in us that revels in it – the flesh! If we thought only on the pure, much of our thinking would be eliminated. Do you know if you dig deep enough you can find some dirt on everyone? You’ll find what you are looking for. If you dwell on the pure, you won’t be looking for the dirt. Again, when there is a dispute – one side tends to look for the failing in the other person. If they were looking for what was pure – perhaps they might find things to admire in the other, things to honour them for, rather than condemn them. Whatever is Lovely: [P] (προσφιλῆ)  it is that which is acceptable; something “whose grace attracts", causing people to be pleased with it. It’s more of the same – you can focus on what is disagreeable, that which displeases you, or you can look at what is pleasing. In a church fellowship we are family – we are close to each other – and the closer you are to people, the better you know them. And when you get close to people there will be some things that are lovely, that please you; and some things that irritate you and get up your nose. It is good marriage advice – dwell on the lovely – on the fact that your spouse made you breakfast in bed, not that he left his dirty socks under the bed. I have a lovely wife who does 101 lovely thoughtful things each day, but if one little thing irks me; what is it that I think about? The unlovely can be a really minor feature, but that is what we focus on. But is the lovely that should be let through our mental filter. Good repute: [P] (εὔφημα) – it literally it means “well-sounding” – it is that deserving approval or having a good reputation. Look, there are a couple of respected members of the fellowship who have had a falling out, they disagree with each other. Now people in the fellowship are taking sides with one or the other. One side seeks to discredit the other – they seek to gain support for their own side or point of view – so they say: “Did you hear what so-and-so did?” They dig up the dirt. Instead of looking for the things that are of good repute, worthy being lauded and praised, they focus on exactly the opposite, the things that will spoil the reputation of the other. Look, a pastor can have led a congregation, fed them on the word, built up the congregation, cared for the flock faithfully for years. But if he falls morally – what is it that he is remembered for? I am not saying we should ignore sin in leadership, with their responsibility goes a higher level of accountability – but what I am pointing out is that we tend to focus on the juicy gossip, that which discredits, rather than that which is laudable. Rather than that which is shameful we should look for things of Excellence: [P] (ἀρετὴ) – the word means virtue, it was the most comprehensive Greek term for moral excellence. The Greek laid great emphasis on ethics, and this was their word for their highest virtue – it is ‘outstanding goodness’. You know why gravel is cheap and diamonds are expensive, don’t you? Anyone can go out and collect gravel – but something of value takes searching out. It is easy to find the shoddy, the make-do, the doing of the bare minimum required, the ordinary – it’s everywhere. To find the gem of value, that which is of excellence, you are going to have to search a bit more diligently. Anyone can find dirt, but to find virtue – that is something! And if you find it you have something of far greater value. It takes no great skill to be a critic – look for the virtue in people. You can easily find some fault to criticize but is there anything that is Praiseworthy? (ἔπαινος) – that which deserves praise. It says: (καὶ εἴ τις ἔπαινος ‘and if there is anything praiseworthy’) – there may be not much but if there is anything at all that you could praise the other person for – think about that. Dwell on that. Is this all just “Pollyanna” thinking? Looking on the bright side of life, positive thinking? Some have perverted Christianity into a mere psychology of positive thinking. No, it is not being blind to faults and being unrealistic, because that is not true. Yes, there are faults in the other, we are not saying they are not there but it is what your mind dwells upon. And when there is a disagreement between two parties, the natural tendency is to dwell on the hurt, on what the other did to you, the wrong in the other – and your mind feeds on it until it becomes way bigger than it is. It says let your mind dwell on these things [P] – the things that are true, honourable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, things of excellence and worthy of praise – we are to Ponder upon these things: (λογίζομαι) – that term which we find prominent in the book of Romans – it means: to consider, reckon, to take into account, to think on, dwell upon, ponder. Use your mental facilities upon them continually and habitually. It is to think about something in a detailed and logical manner, apply your reasoning. I have said that I have found myself involved in this “Euodia-Syntyche” situation before – and where there is conflict and disagreement, you find that it preys upon your mind. You turn the situation over and over. It is easy to dwell on the hurt, the injustice, the wrong, what you perceive to be the fault in the other person.  There was on old TV program about a father and son – and it used to start with this cute son asking his Dad: “Have you ever tried to think of nothing?” His Dad said, “Yep, it’s hard isn’t it?” The son replied, “Yeah, some little thing always comes sneaking in.” You can’t think of nothing, but you can choose what you think about. And here we are give a filter to guard our mind about what we let in. But, what is true? [P] What is honourable? What is right? What is pure? Where do you find that which is lovely? What is of good repute? What is excellent? What is praise-worthy? Or rather should the question should be WHO IS? [P] There is only one who satisfies these criteria: JESUS! [P] He is the only One who is True, [P] who said, “I am the truth!” [John 14:6 “I am the way, and the truth.”]; who is honourable, worthy of all honour [P] [Revelation 5:12 “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honour.”] He alone is right [P] – righteous altogether, without sin. [Acts 3:14 “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One]. Jesus alone is pure [P] – a spotless Lamb [1 Peter 1:18-19 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.] I have to admit that I have difficulty in interpreting the Song of Solomon but many say that it is an allegory of Christ and His Church; there in: [Song of Solomon 5:16 “His mouth is full of sweetness. And he is wholly desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend.”] or as the amplified renders it: [P]He is the altogether lovely”. Who is of good repute, whose Name or reputation is above every name? [P] We read in: [Philippians 2:9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,] It is only Jesus! He is the epitome of excellence [P]He does all things well: [Mark 7:37 They were utterly astonished, saying, “He has done all things well.”] And Jesus alone is worthy of all praise! [P] Hallelujah! [Psalm 148:13 Let them praise the name of יהוה, for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven.] [Revelation 5:12-13 “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!”] Jesus is the One who fulfils these perfectly – nothing and no one else is true, honourable, right, pure, lovely, of perfect repute, excellent, He alone is worthy of our praise. We are to ponder these things …. We are to meditate upon Jesus! He should be the subject of our meditation: [Psalm 104:34 My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in יהוה. Psalm 27:4 One thing I have asked from the יהוה, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the יהוה and to meditate in His temple.] why let your mind consider the ugly? It is so easy to get distracted, we live busy lives and we can get caught up just in the business of living – but only one thing really matters! It is so easy for our mind to be taken up with other things. [Luke 10:38-42 Now as they were travelling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” ] There are other things that press for our attention. And our eyes can so easily get shifted from where they ought to be. Remember Peter with James and John on the mountain, there they saw the LORD in His glory, there was Moses, there was Elijah! Totally overwhelmed Peter blurted out some remark about making a tent for each of them. Then God Himself intervened, the cloud came down and He Himself spoke: [Matthew 17:5 While Peter was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!”]  Then the cloud lifted: [Matthew 17:8 And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.] We need to have our eyes fixed upon Him, our mind stayed upon Him. 

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